A statistical guide to firearms, intimate partner abuse, and the children, parents, and police who become victims, too.
by Kerry Shaw August 22, 2016
This is not just another “guns and domestic violence” article – it is full of statistical information that makes it crystal clear how guns make domestic violence lethal to intimate partners, children, family members, friends, law enforcement, and even bystanders. Please read. – S.H.A.R.E., Inc.
The Importance of Using Accountable Language
by Phyllis B. Frank and Barry Goldstein
This article was conceived because of the frequency with which leaders of our movement and presenters at conferences use unaccountable language in our presentations and proposals, even as they deeply care about ending men’s violence against women and have devoted their lives to helping women partnered with abusive men.
Like all tools of oppression, unaccountable language is conditioned into our psyches, taught and learned as appropriate vocabulary and in socially acceptable sentence structure. Thus, unaccountable language is part of everyday parlance of people acting in complete good faith in trying to end men’s violence against women. We know this is true because as long as we have trained to avoid unaccountable language, we still sometimes make this error, as well. The movement to end domestic violence has not yet made the use of accountable language a priority. We hope this article will encourage all of us in the movement to do so. This is one program we can afford even in tight economic times.
Defining unaccountable language
Unaccountable language refers to the powerful messages embedded in all forms of speech and media that have all of us lapse into sentence structure that obscures perpetrators, minimizes their abuse, and supports blaming victims. One common example is the phrase “an abusive relationship.” The relationship did not hit the woman, but rather it was the abuser, typically a man who is husband or intimate partner, who was abusive. Such statements make the person who committed the offense, invisible. More specifically it is the use of passive language that results in making the perpetrator invisible. For example, a phrase like a woman was raped should be replaced by, “A man raped a woman.” The rape did not just happen, but rather the rapist committed a brutal act. The idea is to focus attention on the person responsible. Accountably speaking we might say a woman was in a relationship with an abuser or he is abusive to his intimate partner. Another example is exposed by the question, “How many women will be raped or assaulted in this year?” Do we ever hear, “How many men will rape or assault this year?”
Other examples of the language of accountability
Once, when discussing accountable language during a staff training, we looked up on the wall to see a bumper sticker that said, “Every 15 seconds a woman is assaulted.” Our objection at the time was not with the accuracy of the information but that the statement failed to focus on the cause of these assaults. “Every 15 seconds a man assaults a woman!” would be an accountable description.
During a dinner conversation, Barry, and his partner, Sharon, were discussing a series of disastrous calamities in their home caused by the builder who seemed to have deliberately sabotaged their house. After hearing about one emergency repair after another, Phyllis said it was the first time she actually understood the true meaning of an “abusive home“, since too often the phrase “abusive home” is misused to invisiblize a man who repeatedly abuses his partner in their home.
The police and media often refer to incidents in which a man brutalizes his wife or girl friend as a “domestic dispute.” This describes a man’s criminal assault as if it were some kind of mutual problem, even-sided engagement, or tame dispute, rather than an act of brutality. When a mugger assaults and robs a cab driver, it is not described as a “fare dispute.”
Unaccountable language hides responsibility
The use of accountable language is not a technicality or merely a play on words, but rather an issue with profound social consequences. The systemic use of unaccountable language minimizes men’s abuse of women, fails to take his abuse seriously, and hides his responsibility for his actions. If we say “a woman was hurt” it seems like it just happened, as if on its own accord, or by accident, and there is nothing to be done about it. If instead we refer to the man who is hurting the woman, this requires assigning responsibility and taking action to stop him from hurting her again and provide consequences for the harm he caused.
Domestic violence is comprised of a wide range of tactics used by men to maintain power and to control their intimate partners The tactics are part of a pattern of coercive actions designed to maintain, what he believes (consciously or not), are his male privileges, to control his significant other. Historically, men were assigned, by social and legal norms, control over wives and families. Today, even though that is no longer legally, and for so many, morally, the case, an “abusive relationship” or “domestic dispute” makes it seem like a communications or relationship problem between the parties. It suggests counseling or therapy as a remedy instead of consequences to hold abusers accountable for abusive, controlling, and/or violent tactics.
Social Consequences of unaccountable language
As a society our constant use of unaccountable language gives still another advantage to abusers. Unaccountable language, embedded in all dominant institutions, including the judicial system, leads police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges in domestic violence custody cases to confidently assume that both parties share equal blame for not getting along. They often tell the parties they are equally responsible for the problems in the relationship and they must start to cooperate, get therapy, or anger management classes. When a mother attempts to protect her children or limit contact with an abusive father, she is routinely blamed for not getting along rather than recognized for what is a normal reaction to a partner’s abuse.
If we are going to end or at least reduce the use of unaccountable language in this society, those of us working in the battered women’s movement must take the lead and must set an example to use accountable language. Politicians often use phrases like “mistakes were made” Instead of saying, “I made a mistake.” We want society to be clear that men ,who abuse and mistreat the women they are partnered with, are responsible for their actions. We are asking presenters and others working to end domestic violence to join us in striving to use accountable language.
The vehicle through which the community-based battered women’s movement could be completely co-opted.
Hijacked by the Right is a resource for those who are or may be affected by the Family Justice Center juggernaut: survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; advocates working in domestic violence agencies, shelters, and rape crisis centers; mainstream social service providers; churches and faith-based organizations; businesses; and concerned citizens.
The struggle for the heart of the domestic violence movement is a struggle over worldview and philosophy: whose worldview and whose philosophy will determine the perspective from which services will be provided. In Hijacked by the Right, I propose that domestic violence has become the new front of the Religious Right’s war on women. On one side is the 40-year-old Battered Women’s Movement, a community-based social justice model. On the other is the 10-year-old Family Justice Center movement, a socially and politically conservative systems-based model. Is the Family Justice Center (FJC) model — which co-locates police, prosecutors, domestic violence advocates, chaplains, child protective services, job training programs, and other community services in the same location — an evolution of the Battered Women’s Movement or its hijacking? What could possibly go wrong when law enforcement enters into partnership with the other institutional powers: government, corporations, religion, family? Consider this:
Law Enforcement: Victims tell advocates that they don’t go to the police because they fear the police and are terrified of becoming trapped withn the the criminal justice system juggernaut. Advocates fear that if they alienate the police or prosecutors, battered women will ultimately suffer the backlash.
Government: George W. Bush established the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to “save a family in jeopardy—one soul, one heart at a time.” The subsequent Family Justice Center Initiative was to provide “comprehensive services at one location, including medical care, counseling, law enforcement assistance, social services, employment assistance, housing assistance, and faith-based counseling programs.” Community-based feminist advocates are forced to collaborate with the very systems they historically monitored and held accountable.
Corporations: Privatization redirects funds from existing community-based domestic violence agencies and shelters to investor-operated businesses, opening a huge market for corporations to provide survivor counseling, risk assessment, security services, law enforcement, correctional facilities, batterers’ counseling, spiritual counseling, crisis pregnancy counseling, addictions programs, job training, housing, child care, parenting classes, budgeting… the list is virtually endless.
Religion: Most if not all FJCs engage faith-based organizations to provide services. Including faith-based providers appears to be good, but many (if not most) of them are conservative Christian organizations. Conservative Christian ideology sees men as “servant leaders” with a sacred obligation to lead their wives and children, sometimes with force. These ‘benevolent batterers’ exercise power and control over their families verbally, emotionally, psychologically, sexually, financially, and legally.
Advocacy: The Battered Women’s Movement helped women to see and reveal the abuse they suffered at the hands of men who claimed to love, serve, and protect them. It also exposed the degrading oppression and abuse women received from the institutions they turned to for protection — the police, courts, religious institutions, medical providers, and their own families. The original domestic violence shelters and agencies focused on a woman’s autonomy and choice: “what does she want us to do and how can we best serve her?” The FJC movement has co-opted this focus with institutional collaboration, protocols, and financial incentives.
Early Sunday morning, Omar Mateen began killing people in what became the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. Authorities will now study what may have made the 29-year-old go to the Pulse gay nightclub with the intention of ending so many lives.
The Washington Post reported Monday that “although family members said Mateen had expressed anger about homosexuality, the shooter had no record of previous hate crimes.” But that depends on how you categorize domestic violence.
Mateen’s coworker, Daniel Gilroy, who requested a transfer so he wouldn’t have to work with Mateen, describes him as “scary in a concerning way…. He had anger management issues. Something would set him off, but the things that would set him off were always women, race or religion. [Those were] his button pushers.”
Mateen reportedly beat his ex-wife, Sitora Yusifiy, and at one point held her hostage, but was never held accountable. She divorced him after only four months of marriage, citing his mental-health issues. Her family, she says, had to “pull [her] out of his arms.” She describes Mateen as practicing his religion — Islam — but showing “no sign” of violent radicalism. It’s understandable what she means there, but perhaps it’s time our society started to think of physical abuse, possessiveness and men’s entitlement to act in those ways toward women as terroristic, violent and radical.
As Huffington Post reporter Melissa Jeltsen wrote last year, “The untold story of mass shootings in America is one of domestic violence.” According to a conservative estimate by the FBI, 57 percent of the mass shootings (involving more than four victims) between January 2009 and June 2014 involved a perpetrator killing an intimate partner or other family member. In other words, men killing women intimates and their children and relatives are the country’s prototypical mass shooters; these killings are horrifyingly common. In fact, on Sunday, while the world watched in horror as news poured out of Orlando, a man in New Mexico was arrested in the fatal shooting deaths of his wife and four daughters.
Even when intimate partners are not involved, gender and the dynamics of gender are salient. According to one detailed analysis, 64 percent of the victims of mass murders are women and children, and yet the role that masculinity and aggrieved male entitlement plays is largely sidelined. Schools, for example, make up 10 percent of the sites of mass shootings in the U.S., and women and girls are twice as likely to die in school shootings. Gyms, shopping malls and places of worship are also frequent targets, and are similarly places where women and girls are predictably present in greater numbers.
Homophobia is nothing if not grounded in profound misogyny. Regardless of religion or ethnicity, anti-LGTB rhetoric is the expression of dominant heterosexuality that feeds on toxic masculinity and rigid gender stereotypes. Sunday’s mass killing targeted the LGTBQ community — including people who violate gender rules, such as men who are “like women,” per Mateen’s thinking. What’s more, according to several Pulse regulars, Mateen had previously been to the nightclub a number of times, and investigators are also looking into whether he may have been using a gay dating app. It’s still unclear why he might have done those things, but at least a few people have said he may have been gay and closeted, potentially adding another dimension to his homophobia.
The club where the shooting took place, Pulse, had been known as a particularly a safe space for queer and trans people of color, groups who are the target of the fastest growing number of hate crimes in the United States. If Mateen’s choosing Pulse as a target isn’t an indication of aggrieved entitlement and fragile masculinity, I don’t know what is. Pledging allegiance to ISIS, as he is reported to have done in the midst of the shooting, while related in many dimensions to this problem, seems more like a symptom, not a cause.
Intimate partner violence and the toxic masculinity that fuels it are the canaries in the coal mine for understanding public terror, and yet this connection continues largely to be ignored, to everyone’s endangerment. It is essential to understand religious extremism (of all stripes), racism, homophobia, mental illness and gun use, but all of these factors are on ugly quotidian display in one place before all others: at home. If experts in countering violent extremism are looking for an obvious precursor to public massacres, this is where they should focus their attentions.
There are major problems to overcome before we’ll see real change, though. First, we need to fundamentally shift how we think about and assess “terror.” Just as the public’s consciousness has been raised in regards to race, ethnicity and the framing of only some agents of violence as “terrorists,” so too should we consider domestic violence a form of daily terror. Three women a day are killed by intimate partners in the United States, and the majority of women murdered are murdered by men they know. There needs to be a dissolution between what we think of as “domestic” violence, traditionally protected by patriarchal privacy norms and perpetrated by men against “their” women, and “public” violence, traditionally understood as male-on-male. Acts of public terrorism such as the one in Orlando Sunday would be less unpredictable if intimate partner violence were understood as a public health and safety issue, instead of as a private problem.
Second, we must address the reasons why many victims of domestic violence are not comfortable going to the police — for instance, the fact that sexual “misconduct” is the second most prevalent form of police misconduct, after excessive force. Additionally, high rates of police brutality, particularly in communities of color, constitute a form of terror. This fact should be inseparable from tolerance for high rates of intimate partner violence in police ranks. Women, and perhaps especially women of color, who might otherwise be able to alert law enforcement about the early signs of violence or radicalization do not currently feel safe or comfortable going to the police.
The third major issue to address is that of violent men and their access to guns. In households where an abusive spouse has access to a gun, women are five times more likely to be killed. And yet, men who violently abuse women they are related to are not barred from owning or buying guns if their domestic violence is never reported to the police or prosecuted. What’s more, gun-rights activists are trying to overturn a 1996 amendment to a federal law that says it’s illegal for a person who’s been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor to buy or own a gun. And currently people with restraining orders associated with intimate partner violence are only prohibited from owning or buying guns in fewer than half of U.S. states.
Fourth, it’s time to correlate the known risk factors for intimate partner killing, determined in what is known as a lethality assessment, to other factors that might help predict who will engage in acts of mass shooting and killing. Given the ridiculous pace of intimate partner and mass shootings, there’s no shortage of data to study. We know what behaviors presage men’s murdering women and children and then, often, turning guns on themselves. What if those metrics were integrated into models designed to understand and counter what is traditionally thought of as violence extremism? If, as Jelsten pointed out, experts believe that domestic homicides are “the most predictable and preventable of all homicides” then, given what we know about the inciting incidents in most mass shootings, so too are the majority of acts of public terror.
It does not take intensive analysis or complicated transnational databases to conclude that men who feel entitled to act violently, with impunity, against those they care for will, in all probability, feel greater entitlement to act violently toward those they hate or are scared of.
The sooner we start recognizing this fact, the safer not just women, but all of us, will become.